Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fair Bananas

Bananas are an important component in the home of small children. Without them there’s no banana bread, banana milk shakes, banana and peanut butter sandwiches and of course the joy of pretending we’re all a family of monkeys in need of a snack. And now I am left wondering what are we really paying for when we buy our bananas?

My much more politically aware husband emailed me a link to a piece done on Democracy Now about the business of growing and distributing bananas. I haven’t looked at a banana the same since. Earlier this year Chiquita Banana, the banana with the tarty fruit-lady sticker, admitted that one of its subsidiaries had paid about $1.5 million to a paramilitary group called United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AUC), which also just so happens to be considered a terrorist organization by the US State Department. Why would our friendly neighbourhood banana be paying thugs in Columbia? Well, it seems the AUC were very effective for union busting, terrorizing workers, rounding up and killing organizers of dissention. Bottom line, there’s money in bananas and Chiquita doesn’t want to share (except with terrorists, apparently). I have come to realize that the banana that I grew up with, our popular cereal topping fruit, is an instrument of oppression.

I admit I’d always been aware that the business of growing the likes of bananas and coffee were industries of inequity. I knew that the people who do the actual growing get paid a fraction for what their crop is sold for on the global market by exporters (who make an immense fortune bringing us consumers the products we can’t imagine going through our days without). I buy fare trade, when the opportunity avails itself. But I’d just as likely buy the name brand product at Safeway if I don’t want to make multiple shopping stops. And it occurs to me, why should I have to go out of my way to ensure that my dollar spent is contributing to the world as I’d like to see it work? Why can’t I buy fair trade bananas and coffee at the grocery store across the street from me? In the UK, the large supermarket chain Sainsbury changed to selling only fair trade bananas because of consumer pressure. If there, why not here? Like any business wanting to make money, major grocery store chains just want to sell us what we want to buy. If we directly tell them we want to buy fair trade, it seems to follow that they’d want to carry fair trade products.

So my goal for the week is to write a short note to Safeway and IGA (where we usually do our grocery shopping) asking that they start carrying fair trade bananas and coffee. I’m sure if Safeway and IGA got only my note they’d simply toss it in the recycling bin and not give it much thought. However, there is a magic number of letters received that will cause the grocery store decision makers to take notice. I don’t know what that number is, but I’d sure like to find out. And until I can simply buy fair trade bananas at my local supermarket, I’ll make the extra effort to shop at the stores that carry fair trade.